A Swiss-born billionaire who funneled hundreds of millions to left-leaning US groups may have violated bans against political donations by foreign nationals, according to a lawsuit.
Hansjorg Wyss, who has an estimated net worth of $5.1 billion and in lives in Wyoming, has become a major donor to liberal groups in recent years, but remains tight-lipped about his citizenship status.
Foreign nationals who don’t hold US green cards are barred from making direct donations to candidates for office or political action committees, but they are are allowed to contribute to advocacy groups that seek to sway public policy.
In recently filed lawsuit, watchdog group Americans for Public Trust challenged that distinction, accusing the Federal Election Commission of acting too slowly on a complaint it filed against Wyss in May 2021.
The lawsuit filed in US district court for Washington DC cites media interviews given by Wyss and a regulatory filing indicating that he is not a US citizen, and argues that the FEC needs to investigate whether his donations violate election laws.
‘Americans for Public Trust is suing the FEC for failing to investigate foreign money in our elections,’ Caitlin Sutherland executive director of Americans for Public Trust, told The Hill.
‘Mr. Wyss, who is barred from directly or indirectly influencing our elections, has done just that by potentially funneling hundreds of millions of dollars through the Arabella Advisors network to benefit liberal and left-wing causes,’ she added.
‘Until the FEC takes action, we won’t know the full extent of his foreign interference in our electoral process.’
Spokespersons for Wyss have repeatedly insisted that his donations are permissible, and go only toward causes he believes in, rather than supporting political candidates.
Wyss, 86, made headlines recently as part of a joint bid to take over British Premier League team Chelsea from sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
He also put together a failed takeover bid last year to buy Tribune Publishing, the company behind the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, and numerous other US newspapers.
A New York Times article last year noted that Wyss had ‘quietly become one of the most important donors to left-leaning advocacy groups and an increasingly influential force among Democrats.’
However, questions have long swirled regarding Wyss’ citizenship status. In a 2014 speech, he said he carried only a Swiss passport and did not have a US green card, according to Swiss outlet Bick.
As well, his sister Hedi Wyss wrote in a 2014 book about her brother that he ‘he never applied for citizenship’ in the US, according to RealClearPolitics.
‘What was important for him was to find out that he could exert influence through his foundations,’ she added.
The Americans for Public Trust lawsuit cited a 2021 Securities and Exchange Commission filing in which Wyss listed his citizenship as a ‘citizen of Switzerland’.
It also quoted from an interview Wyss gave Bick in 2021, in which he said that he ‘can’t’ donate to American political candidates.
The suit alleges that Wyss used his two nonprofit organizations, the Wyss Foundation and the Berger Action Fund, to funnel millions to the Sixteen Thirty Fund and the New Venture Fund.
The recipients of the funds were so-called dark money groups that fund liberal causes through advocacy groups including The Hub Project and Demand Justice, according to the suit.
The suit alleges that if some of the funds went to campaigns opposing or supporting election candidates, Wyss could be in violation of federal election laws.
According to the Times, the Wyss’ two non-profits from 2016 to 2020 donated $208 million to ‘a wide array of groups that backed progressive causes and helped Democrats in their efforts to win the White House and control of Congress.’
Wyss dismissed the report in an interview with Bick, calling the Times reporter ‘a well-known conservative editor who keeps writing fact-less articles.’
The Wyss Foundation and the Berger Action Fund did not immediately respond to inquiries from DailyMail.com on Tuesday.
However, a spokesperson for the non-profits told The Hill in a statement that the two organizations ‘expressly prohibit their grant recipients from using funding from the organizations to support or oppose political candidates or parties or to engage in partisan voter registration and get out the vote efforts.’
This is an excerpt from Daily Mail.
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